San Diego

Families Forced to Wait Outside of Eastlake High School's Graduation Ceremony

“We actually heard his name in the microphone and we cheered in the parking lot," one graduate's family friend said

Dozens of parents and family members were forced to wait outside a high school graduation ceremony in Chula Vista, California, Wednesday after the stadium reached capacity.

"It felt frantic," said Melissa Velize, a family friend of an Eastlake High School graduate.

NBC 7 spoke with Sweetwater Union High School District's Manny Rubio who said families were not allowed inside the Devore Stadium due to safety reasons.

"It’s a once in a lifetime event and we’re missing it,” Velize said.

On Wednesday night, 698 students were participating in the outdoor graduation ceremony. The capacity for Devore Stadium, on the campus of Southwestern College on Otay Lakes Road, is nearly 10,000, Rubio told NBC 7. 

Each graduate was given 12 tickets each, the district spokesperson said. Leftover tickets were handed out to students who requested more.

Velize told NBC 7, when she arrived at the stadium around 5:45 p.m for the 6 p.m. ceremony, there was a crowd of people at the gates, waiting to get inside. She was told there was no more space and was advised to try a different entrance.

But she said that the other entrance had the same issue.

“We actually heard his name in the microphone and we cheered in the parking lot," she said.

Rubio said that it appeared people were passing tickets to each other and reusing them multiple times, potentially causing the stadium to reach capacity.

He said based on the Fire Marshal's warning about safety issues due to overcrowding, the school staff stopped letting people inside.

Justin Gipson, Fire Marshal for the City of Chula Vista Fire Department, called NBC 7 Thursday and said he was not present at the event. Gipson said there were no CVFD firefighters at the event.

Families were informed they could watch the live stream of the ceremony on Eastlake High School's website.

Velize said she hoped next time, the school would issue tickets with barcodes on them to avoid this happening again.

The Sweetwater Union School District is aware of the issue and will be releasing a statement Friday morning.

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